Unfortunately dealing with online trolls is every businesses’ business these days. It’s not if but when your company or brand will have to deal with a troll. And that can be difficult, stressful and disheartening, especially for small businesses. Here are 5 tips our team really tries to use when dealing with trolls.
First, let’s be very clear about what a troll (or trolling) is. Every business will hear from unhappy customers, receive criticism and complaints, and sometimes these won’t be friendly or even constructive, but these things are not trolling. These customers have an issue but they want a solution. Trolls and trolling do not aim to solve a problem. A troll is combative and their intentions are not constructive.
Haters of small businesses and organizations are a strange breed of trolls. They don’t move on from your business or brand, often despite professing not to use it or pay for it. They stick around online to downvote, harass your customers and mock your sincere attempts to engage. They are not there to help anyone. Unfortunately, as is common with trolls, they can be loud and destructive enough to appear like they are more than the single individual or the small minority they are. This is especially true in the community surrounding a small business where, unlike hate directed at a large corporation, the impact one troll can make can be disproportionately disruptive.
- Kill Them with Kindness – This is the first step, always. Make sure their issues are heard. It’s important to acknowledge your critics and thank them for their feedback. Next, do what you can; let them know how to find a solution, report a problem or submit a request through the designated channels. If this doesn’t apply or work, I use an open-ended question such as “what do you suggest?” or “how can I make this right?”. Responses to these questions can really highlight the person’s intention. If you have done these things, your sincere customers will see your good-faith effort even when the trolls refuse to acknowledge it.
- Let it Chill & Find Your Voice – Sometimes the best thing is to walk away for an hour or a day. It’s tempting to jump right in and defend your small business. I’ve certainly done it and I bet you have too. Keep in mind it takes a certain temperament to respond online and not everyone is designed for it. So take your time to craft a reply as well as to choose who should post that reply. The poster will likely be the “face” of the reply and will need to be able to handle follow-ups without feeding the trolls or sinking to their level. A well thought out reply that states facts is the best counter to a troll trying to goad you into a fight. Plus, you come out looking calm and professional in contrast to the troll.
- Never Feed the Trolls – We’ve all heard this mantra and we all know how difficult it can be to follow. Perhaps the most difficult step in all this is deciding when to respond and when not to respond. You believe in your business and you have devoted yourself to growing and improving it and you naturally want to defend your product. But it’s very important to remember that not every online comment needs a response. Ideally, you have already tried the first two suggestions and if those haven’t worked, now you need to take the high road. You can agree to disagree, even if the troll can’t.
- Look to the Helpers – Sometimes the best response doesn’t come from you. Your customers shooting down a troll and defending your business can be such a benefit for a small business. Not to mention, it’s so nice to not have to worry about at least this one response! It’s important to reply to and focus on the community members that add positively to the community, the people who support others online. Do not let trolls ruin the community experience for everyone else. If the negative actions of a troll outweighs the positive, if the helpers are expressing to you the negative impact of a troll, small businesses must consider the impact on the whole community. Listen to the helpers in your community when they complain about the trolls and take decisive action.
- Self Care – I can say “don’t take it home” and “leave it at the office” until the cows come home; but it’s 2021 and the line between home and office is so very, very distorted, disproportionately so for small businesses. Plus, for some of us it’s just not that easy. If you are part of a team, lean on them when you feel overwhelmed. In small businesses we often wear many hats, so there is no reason you should bear the trauma of a troll alone. I read about a group that shares the most bizarre hate message and crazy reviews they receive each year, they select the worst and have a comedian announce the winners! One participant said, “We figure it means we’ve arrived, so why not celebrate it!” Finally, remind yourself of the positives. Take a step back and be proud! Be proud of the effort you have put in, the small business you have worked to build and the people who support you. Also, a cold, local beer does wonders.
I hope these tips have offered you some possible paths forward. In the very least, know that you are not alone. In 2017 the Pew Research Center said four-in-ten Americans have experienced harassment online and though I cannot find hard numbers, I don’t think I’m out of line to assume the global pandemic hasn’t improved this trend.
There is no silver bullet for trolls. Trolling is multi-leveled, complex and varies in intensity. And when you are part of a small business trolling can have a significant impact on your mental health as well as job performance. If I can leave you with one bit of advice it would be, no matter what steps you take professionally, know a troll’s anger and hate is their problem, not yours.